What Is Soft Tissue Mobilization?


When people suffer from muscle pain, acupuncture is often the first alternative therapy they think of. It’s true that acupuncture has provided countless people with relief from their musculoskeletal discomfort. But acupuncture isn’t the only tool we have at our disposal when it comes to treating pain. One of the therapies we turn to for many of our patients is called soft tissue mobilization. But what is soft tissue mobilization, and who can benefit from it?

If you’ve got stiff muscles, soft tissue mobilization can be tremendously helpful for reducing pain and improving range of motion. Soft tissue mobilization can also be used to alleviate swelling and encourage lymphatic drainage. 

What exactly is soft tissue mobilization?

Soft tissue mobilization is a manual form of physical therapy that involves the manipulation of muscles, ligaments, and tissues to break up adhesions, reduce stiffness, and encourage a better range of motion. During a soft tissue mobilization session, we may use our hands or several different instruments to target certain muscle groups. We apply deep pressure to stretch muscles, which supports flexibility and the healing process. 

For many people undergoing physical therapy, whether it’s for a sports injury or a facet of their post-surgery recovery plan, soft tissue mobilization is all a part of the process. Soft tissue mobilization is often compared to massage, but it’s actually quite different. While a good massage can help ease muscle tension and stress overall, the goal of soft tissue mobilization is to restore healthy muscle function to an injured area.  

Who can benefit from soft tissue mobilization?

Most people are suffering from musculoskeletal dysfunction, whether they know it or not. We all have asymmetries in our bodies that make muscle imbalances inevitable. Maybe your right leg is a quarter inch longer than your left leg, or maybe you have scoliosis that affects your posture. The point is, these asymmetries affect the way we move. 

Our bodies are unique and not perfectly proportioned, so it’s easy for our muscles and ligaments to get thrown off — especially if we fail to identify and treat the imbalances in time and the issues are allowed to snowball. Since nearly everybody is dealing with unaddressed muscle imbalances, it’s fair to say that nearly everybody can benefit from soft tissue mobilization! 

However, some people benefit from soft tissue mobilization more than others. Soft tissue mobilization is often used to prevent scar tissue after surgery. We use this type of therapy to discourage adhesions and encourage flexibility as muscles and ligaments heal post-op. During a soft tissue mobilization session, we use varying degrees of pressure to address deep muscle pain as well as pain that is just skin deep, and this also enables us to alleviate swelling. 

Athletes struggling with acute sports injuries, like sprains, strains, or muscle tears, are great candidates for soft tissue mobilization, too. Soft tissue mobilization is ideal for helping people overcome their random sore spots and even pain associated with old injuries.

Is soft tissue mobilization effective?

In short, yes. Very much so! Soft tissue mobilization is highly effective when it comes to breaking up adhesions and preventing the development of scar tissue. This makes it the treatment of choice for improving and/or preserving range of motion after surgery or injury. Used alongside traditional physical therapy, soft tissue mobilization can drastically improve your range of motion in the months and years following surgery. 

But soft tissue mobilization doesn’t just keep your muscles limber and supple. It also helps the body fight inflammation, and it does this by supporting blood flow. The body relies on good circulation to repair damaged tissues. This boost in circulation also helps reduce painful swelling. 

Soft tissue mobilization has also been found to modulate the pain response, making it easier for patients to cope with pain without having to rely on pain medications. Like acupuncture, soft tissue mobilization therapy is thought to trigger the release of endorphins, which act as a natural pain killer. These neurotransmitters alter the way the brain perceives pain, making it much easier to handle. 

Endorphins also encourage the body to relax. The release of endorphins, coupled with the physical manipulation of the muscles to reduce tension, can help alleviate stress, and that also has a tremendous impact on your mood and well-being in general. It’s easier to feel better physically when you feel better mentally!

Can soft tissue mobilization be used with other therapies?

Soft tissue mobilization can be used alongside other alternative therapies, depending on a client’s circumstances. Cupping is another therapy that stimulates soft tissues and can be used to support healing. This treatment is especially beneficial for athletes for addressing acute sprains and muscle aches. Electro-acupuncture is another favorite. This therapy stimulates muscles using an electrical current and can help us target underperforming muscle groups. 

Depending on a client’s goals, we may also advise them to start corrective exercise therapy. If you’re an active individual, corrective exercise therapy will show you how to move properly, with each of your muscle groups working together. While soft tissue mobilization helps fight your muscle pain, corrective exercise therapy helps you avoid getting injured in the first place. 

On top of these therapies, we may also recommend dry needling and/or sports acupuncture. Unlike traditional acupuncture, which identifies systemic dysfunction and works to bring the entire body back into balance, these therapies enable us to target specific muscle groups to restore function. 

Each case is different, and one client’s goals may look totally different than another’s. We’ll work with you to figure out which treatments will help you the most so you can meet all of your wellness goals. 

Get in touch with us today

If you’re struggling with soft tissue pain, you don’t have to stick to taking pain pills and endlessly icing your aching muscles. There are a variety of treatments that can help you cope naturally so you can get back to enjoying life pain-free. 

From your first visit with us at Lycoming Orthopedic & Sports Acupuncture, we’ll assess your health history, concerns, and physical fitness goals, and come up with a customized treatment plan that puts you on the path to wellness. 

Ready to get started? Get in touch with our office today to book your appointment. We’ll answer any questions you may have, and help guide you as to which treatment options will align best with your goals. 

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